Open letter to the Chief Minister

Dear Mr Chief Minister,

With repeated attempts by Persons with Disability representatives for an appointment running into the proverbial brick wall time and again, I am compelled to write this letter.

Mr Chief Minister, our understanding of our government is that it is a government of the people, by the people and for the people. I believe this essentially means that the government has come to power via the votes of the people, that the people who voted them to power have a say in what the government does or doesn’t do and that the government exists to better the lives of its citizens – all its citizens and not only the privileged class or a chosen few. As you are the head of our government right now, our desire to meet you was simply to apprise you of the appalling conditions in our State that continue to marginalise and discriminate people living with disability and deprive them of their rights, in the hope that you will hear our voice and take steps to right the wrong that has been perpetuated by consecutive state governments.

However, since you apparently cannot make the time to meet us, on this day – the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disability – I write this open letter to you on behalf of all people living with disability in Nagaland.

The theme for this year’s International Day is “Achieving 17 Goals for the Future We Want”. This theme notes the recent adoption of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the role of these goals in building a more inclusive and equitable world for persons with disabilities.

So, let’s take a look at Nagaland. I’m assuming that you’re aware that the number of people with various disabilities in Nagaland as per Census 2011 was 29, 631, around 1.5% of the total population. This figure was an underestimation, in my opinion, and the actual number would have been much higher. In any case, this was the official number – 29,631 people with disabilities in Nagaland, 26% of whom were younger than 18 years. And it may be pointed out here that this is the one and only data on disability available in Nagaland. By now, the number would have increased considerably.

I’m also assuming that you’re aware that the country's first ever legislation that laid the foundation for equal rights of people with disability came into being over 20 years ago with the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act 1995 which came into force on February 7, 1996. Furthermore, in October 2007, India ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) 2006. You may or may not know, but the process of getting a stronger disability rights legislation based on the UN Convention has been underway and a new bill is currently awaiting passage by Parliament which we are hoping will happen in this winter session.

So, 20 years have passed since the passing of the PwD Act 1995. How has it benefited people with disability in Nagaland?

* 20 years and Nagaland still does not have a State Disability Policy in place
* Two crucial committees for ensuring implementation of the PwD Act (Chapter III Section 13 and 19) – State Co-ordination Committee (SCC) and State Executive Committee (SEC) – have not been constituted and government officials are not even aware of the mandatory provision
* Nagaland is the only state in the country that does not have even a single proper medical or social rehabilitation service facility for persons with disability
* There is not even a single facility for those with severe disabilities or those needing special care 
* Only about 5.17% of persons with disability in Nagaland have a disability certificate, the lowest in the whole of North East region. Many of these also contain wrong or incomplete information.
* Social Security pension for the neediest is also in a pathetic state. Only 1833 PwDs out of the 29,631 (Census 2011), as per Social Welfare Dept information, are availing disability pension. The amount being given, Rs 200/-, is again among the lowest in the entire country.
* Public buildings and public spaces are yet to be made accessible to PwDs – these include office buildings, educational institutions, hospitals and clinics, marketplaces, churches, etc.

The annual International Day theme provides a frame for considering how people with disability are marginalised and excluded from society by assessing the existing conditions and promoting the removal of all types of barriers. This glimpse of the bleak reality in Nagaland completes the ‘assessing’ part. It would actually be funny if it was not so terribly sad! The above are just some main aspects of the PwD Act 1995 which our government is barely aware of much less implement. In Nagaland, the observation of the day has done nothing to improve the quality of life of people with disability. It is just a wonderful annual event where politicians, bureaucrats and other public leaders get the opportunity to show off their pseudo concern and compassion with stirring speeches peppered with patronising platitudes.

And then, Mr Chief Minister, there is the matter of the STATE BUDGET. The now dissolved Planning Commission had earlier specified three percent budget allocation for disability and identified 20 ministries to mandatorily have a disability component in their budget. However, this has never been reflected in the Nagaland State Government budgets. In fact, one would be hard pressed to find any mention of disability, not to speak of any specific funds being allocated to ensure that disabled people are not deprived and left behind in the development process, as expressly laid down in the PwD Act 1995. And, of course, no department has any disaggregated data on disability or any kind of disability component in their annual budgets.

By the way, the Supreme Court had recently pulled up some states and Union Territories for not filing the status report with regard to implementation of its verdict and the legal scheme to grant of reservation to disabled people and asked them to furnish the same within two weeks. We do not know whether Nagaland has filed its status report, but we would certainly like to know the status of steps taken to implement the SC verdict. The verdict, as you must know, is with regard to implementation of the specific provision of three per cent quota in jobs to persons with disability.

Mr Chief Minister, I could go on and on, but it would be presumptuous on my part to expect the papers to grant me that much space. But before I end, there are a couple of SPECIFIC ISSUES that I must strongly urge upon you. As mentioned above, one aspect that particularly puts our State to shame is the complete lack of Disability Rehabilitation services. Nagaland has the dubious honour of being the only state in the country without a single proper rehabilitation service centre – medical, social or vocational. I am certain that I don’t have to remind you that rehabilitation is instrumental in enabling people with disabilities, whose functions are limited, to live independently, and participate in education, the labour market and civic life.

In this connection, we have learned of two very crucial projects being taken up by the Social Welfare Department, Nagaland:
1. Composite Regional Centre (CRC) at Dimapur - project put up for inclusion in the State NEC Priority List 2016-17
2. Blind School and Vocational Training Centre for the Disabled - project is under the 13th Finance Commission for which funds were released till the 3rd Phase and completed. 4th Phase is to be taken up under NEC project during 2016-17.

As regards the Composite Regional Centre, it is our understanding that the NEC Priority List has already been sent by the State Government and it does not include the project. Instead, we learn that an NGO ‘Disability Park’ project has been put in its place. This is just another shocking example of the government’s utter apathy towards people with disability and complete lack of understanding of the priority needs of disabled people. The ‘Disability Park’ being listed as a priority project over the Regional Centre is a mind-boggling move by the government in the face of the prevailing situation of extreme lack of disability services and programmes in the state. Right now, we don’t need a stroll in the park – we need accessible education, training, rehabilitation and health services and so on, so that we can live, earn and participate in society with dignity as equal citizens.

Mr Chief Minister, through this open letter, I strongly urge the State Government not to let us down again by going through with this travesty. There is only so much that we can take!

On the Blind School and Vocational Training Centre, we appreciate the pro-activeness of the Secretary and officials of the Social Welfare Dept in taking the project forward. It may be mentioned that, once operational, this will be the first and only state-run institute for people with disability in Nagaland. The project is completed up to the third phase, but funding for the fourth and last phase has ceased with the closing of the 13th FC. It goes without saying that it is now incumbent upon the state government to ensure its completion.  

Mr Chief Minister, I wish to let you know that the disabled community of Nagaland is waiting for this desperately needed institute to start functioning and be not mistaken that we are taking this as a crucial test of your government’s sincerity to deliver on the promises that have been made to us time and again – especially on Disability Day every year.

The above is just a brief overview of the situation of extreme exclusion, neglect and indignity that exists in this beloved state that we call home. A national report on disability has stated that even among the North East states where rehabilitation and disability services and programmes are generally quite inadequate, the situation in Nagaland is ‘especially critical’. Mr Chief Minister, I write this letter to you today because I have faith that, as head of the Government of the day and an honourable leader of the Naga people, you will personally not permit this unacceptable situation to continue.

‘The Future we want’ is an inclusive Nagaland that does not leave us behind; a Nagaland that enables us to realise our full potential as equal and valued members of society; a Nagaland where we can participate in and benefit equitably from everyday life, everywhere; a sustainable Nagaland that embraces humanity in all its diversity. It is not impossible to get there, Mr Chief Minister - all that is needed is political will and a strong commitment to do the right thing.

Diethono Nakhro
Executive Director
CAN-Nagaland and
Member, National Committee on the Rights of PwD   

This letter was published in all the local newspapers today, 3rd December 2016